It’s time to stop the personal attacks on Sepp Blatter

Now Sepp Blatter has stepped down as president of Fifa he has decided he is going to use all of his spare time to concentrate on improving his tennis game: rumour has it that his forehand is nothing special but his back-handers are amazing.

He is the archetypal man we love to hate. From mercilessly mocking him to feeling that the moral reprehensibility of his alleged actions mean we are justified in our vitriolic abuse, it seems that when it comes to Sepp, there is nothing too extreme.

I am as guilty of this as everybody else. A year ago to the day I published an article describing him as having “a cold-blooded reptilian quality” while suggesting he “permanently exude[d] a film of sycophantic greed.”

I will not (I simply cannot) bring myself to defend a man who has stood at the helm of Fifa and twiddled his thumbs as it was slowly weakened to the point of collapse.
Clearly, a man who denied racism existed on the football pitch, yet advised that those affected by a racist incident ought to remember that “this is a game and shake hands” is not an easy man to pity. Neither is an unashamed sexist who called for female footballers to wear tighter shorts and asked at the 2013 Fifa congress: “Any ladies in this room? Say something ladies! You are always speaking at home. Now you can speak here.”

Perhaps most difficult to reconcile is that his inaction tacitly condoned blatant human rights abuses in Qatar.

Yet as the news broke that Blatter, guilty of some of the most deplorable moral depravity, has been hospitalised following a “small mental breakdown”, suddenly I felt a strange sense of empathy for a man who has consistently failed to show empathy to anyone else.

The fact the 79-year-old seems to be wholeheartedly unrepentant perhaps rules out a crisis of conscience, but whatever the cause of his hospitalisation, should the fact he is struggling with an episode of mental illness change how we think about, and ultimately treat Blatter?

It certainly does not condone his past behaviours, let alone forgive them. But the mere fact he is struggling (whether it be because of media pressure or a crisis of conscience) reminds us that he is not just the figurehead of a debased organisation but also a human being.

While a man cannot be divorced from his morals, any criticism directed at Blatter’s ought to be based on his statements and actions as supposed to his perceived personality. The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly, not doing so would risk adding an element of hypocrisy to any future criticism of his treatment of others. Does a bad man deserve to be treated with a degree of humility despite the fact he fails to treat others similarly? The answer is simple; failing to do so brings you down to Sepp’s level.

For this reason alone, the ex-president should not be questioned about whether he is ‘pulling the sympathy card’ or ‘bluffing’. After all, it is a peculiar sadness of the modern world that mental illness is not treated in the same way as other, more tangible, physical ailments.

The footballing community, whilst perpetually celebrating physical strength and agility, has always underestimated the importance of mental health and the value of open dialogue about treating its illnesses. The mere fact Blatter felt the need to state the that: “My brain and my heart are always fine, my body is letting me down” only perpetuates this misguided division of mind and body.
The man is obviously tired and utterly deluded, but focusing on his individual personality flaws helps nobody, for doing so masks the extent of Fifa’s problems. Fifa’s disease goes much deeper than the Swiss septuagenarian. To play on his machiavellian character and and focus on the man not the institution is to draw the focus away from his actions and the broader issues facing football’s governing body.

If you love football, naturally your views on Sepp Blatter will be extreme. But for the health of the game and our moral wellbeing, how we address both Sepp Blatter and Fifa’s issues must change.

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